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Remembering Sister Eleanore Hillenbrand, OSB

Our dear Sister Eleanore Hillenbrand, OSB died peacefully on the evening of October 29, 2019 after a few weeks of hospice care. She passed into the loving arms of God and the Sisters who have gone before her are there to welcome her. Born in Chicago, and after attending St. Hilary Parish School, she felt called to attend Saint Scholastica High School in Chicago and enter the monastery as an aspirant. Sister Eleanore formally entered the community as a postulant in 1942 and then ministered at schools in Colorado and Illinois with her longest assignment in the English Department at St. Scholastica High School where she also served as the Chairperson. Her masterful command of words, sharp eye for detail, natural talent for photography, and appreciation for literature will be part of her legacy. We invite you to learn more about Sister Eleanore in the following biography written by Sister Benita Coffey, OSB.


Rita Hillenbrand was born January 21, 1924, the third child of Dr. John and Marion Wagner Hillenbrand, and was baptized on February 3rd of that year. The seven children of the family, Bob, Dolores, Rita, John, Bill, Dick, and Tom, attended St. Hilary Parish School which was staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. Rita was confirmed on November 12, 1933, in autumn of her fourth grade.

Rita’s seventh grade teacher, Sister Xavier had a strong influence on her and she felt a strong determination to be an excellent teacher one day. During the following year, before completing her elementary education,the desire was awakened in her to attend high school at Saint Scholastica since she would also be able to enter the monastery there as an aspirant. This would be for her an early start on the process of becoming a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago.

Pictured left to right: Sister Anastasia Hoffman, OSB, Sister Eleanore Hillenbrand, OSB and Sister Agnes Kelly, OSB in 1943.

Soon after graduation, and with four years of aspirancy completed, on September 8, 1942, Rita formally entered the community as a postulant. On July 11, 1943, she became a novice, receiving the name of her godmother, Eleanore. Her uncle, Monsignor Frederick Hillenbrand celebrated the Mass, serving as the presider at this Reception ceremony. On completion of the novitiate year, she made her first profession on August 18, 1944.

That first year as a Scholastic, Sister Eleanore was assigned to her home parish to teach third grade. During the next several years, she remained on the faculty there, where she was well known. She taught her youngest brother, Tom, when he was in sixth grade. During this period of her life, she also worked toward the completion of her Bachelor of Philosophy degree at DePaul University in Chicago.

Sister Eleanore made her final profession on the 18th of August in 1947. She continued on the faculty at St. Hilary, until being assigned to St. Symphorosa in Chicago, St. Lambert in Skokie, Illinois, and St. Michael in Cañon City, Colorado.

During these first fifteen years of her life as a Benedictine, Sister Eleanore also completed her Masters Degree in English at DePaul University. With that excellent preparation, in the fall of 1957, she was welcomed to the faculty of Saint Scholastica High School in Chicago, where she spent the the remainder of her long teaching career. At times she served as the Chairperson of the English Department.

Students of Sister Eleanore knew her to be precise in what she expected of each girl. Instructions were excellent, assignments were specific and, without a doubt, details mattered. An example of this was her clear forewarning that one misspelled word in a paper meant that it would be rejected. Her students who initially felt this was unfair, were simply reminded that they had been advised of this policy. When her students entered college, they discovered the value of all they had learned: best usage of the English language, appreciation for literature, and the essential skills for doing research.

Even while she was on the high school faculty, Sister Eleanore also served in responsible community positions. During the time Sister Laura Walker was Prioress, she was Directress of Studies and was able to arrange for all the teaching Sisters to become certified in the state of Illinois. Both Sisters Ann Sharp and Mary Ann O’Ryan, when serving as prioress, valued Sister Eleanore’s help as Executive Secretary.

During the years following her career as an educator, many more of Sister Eleanore’s interests and skills became known and were used in valuable ways for the community. For a while when Sister Karen Bland was Prioress and during the terms of Sister Jane Smith, she coordinated the priory services and supervised the housekeeping staff.

Having a masterful command of words, Sister Eleanore’s correspondence enriched the lives of many. Not only did her family and some alumnae hear from her, but for years she regularly sent letters to a woman incarcerated in one of the Illinois prisons and to some men in another facility. One of those inmates even sketched a picture of her.

In addition to her correspondence, Sister Eleanore used her own extensive vocabulary, a thorough knowledge of grammar and a sharp eye for detail to serve frequently to proofread and, at times, edit for the monastery Development Office.

For some years, Sister Vivian Ivantic, community archivist, was assisted by Sister

Eleanore who not only helped with filing records and shelving historical materials, but also became a traveling companion as places were visited that were significant to the community’s history. If it was at all possible, every place where the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago had ministered since 1861 was to be adequately documented in the archives.

Photography became another skill that seemed to be a natural talent that had been waiting for Sister Eleanore to have time to use it. She had an eye for color and arrangement, an appreciation for natural beauty, and a desire to provide pictorial material for archives. Our prayerful Chapel with its original Beuronese murals, along with other unique features thus became well documented. The monastery and the campus were among her favored subjects. As seasons changed, the natural beauty of each scene was enhanced and caught by her camera. At Jubilee times, Sister Eleanore was on hand to take pictures of both individuals celebrating anniversary of vows and the group being honored.

As buyer of books, she first made her presence useful in the community library, Later she served some years as the librarian.

Sister Eleanore's 70th Jubilee of Profession of Vows-2014.

In the latter years of her retirement, Sister Eleanore was a resident of Saint Joseph Court where for some time she had the role of sacristan in the chapel there.

Sister Eleanore's 75th Jubilee of Profession of Vows-July 2019.

Sister Eleanore died on the evening of October 29, 2019 after a few weeks of hospice care. At her request, her body was donated to science. The Mass of Resurrection was celebrated on November 2, 2019. She is survived by her brother Dick and his wife Pat, and her sister-in-law Emily, along with many nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, as well as her Benedictine Sisters.

To read the reflection given at her funeral by Sister Judith Murphy, Prioress, click here.

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